This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Consider W. W. Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw, one of the first literary appearances of a cursed object. The paw may not be throttling your neck to kill you, but its wish-granting curse most definitely will. Twenty years after the story was published, King Tut’s Tomb would be unearthed and a new wave of real-life curse stories would erupt around the tomb and the deaths that were allegedly associated with it. Sixty years after that, Stephen King would write a cursed toy monkey into the cover story of his omnibus of short fiction Skeleton Crew, his own homage, circling back to Jacob’s original spooky monkey.
Suffice to say, we’ve always had cursed objects, but since the 1980’s the subgenre has become wilder than ever, transcending mere curses to occasionally become the terror themselves. From deadly machine weights to psycho tires, these are some of our favorite bonkers killer inanimate objects, as voted on by Rob Hunter, Kieran Fisher, Meg Shields, Brad Gullickson, Anna Swanson, Valerie Ettenhofer, Chris Coffel, and myself.
10. 976-Evil (1988)
Having already stuck his tongue through a receiver in A Nightmare on Elm Street, directing a genre film about a hotline to hell was the next logical step for Robert Englund. 976-EVIL is an under-seen cheese-fest about a nerd played by Stephen Geoffreys who gets possessed by a demonic horrorscope phone service and proceeds to take revenge on those who wronged him. And folks, this is one freaky phone; probing deep into the souls of its callers, exposing them for who they are deep down. Back in the 80s, 976 numbers were a phenomenon: premium, by-the-minute phone numbers, primarily used for phone sex. Speaking of the 80s, phones and the devil: the rise of illicit hotlines went hand in hand with the moral wrist-wringing of the satanic panic. It was a strange new technology teens could use to access forbidden, corrupting knowledge from the privacy of their rooms. Little portals to hell. A dial tone away. Anyone with love in their hearts for the devilish dealings of Trick or Treat, or nostalgia for the 976 days, check this one out! (Meg Shields)
9. The Babadook (2014)
Only Jennifer Kent’s harrowing directorial debut could make me scared of something as seemingly perfect as a free book. The Babadook may have since become a meme (he’s an ironic gay icon now), but in 2014, the pop-up storybook Mister Babadook and its cursed contents were the stuff bad dreams were made of. Widow Amelia (Essie Davis) discovers the book one night at storytime when her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) asks her to read it to him. If you’ve seen the film, you know that aside from being a freaky, largely unseen ghoul, the creature who’s unleashed from the book is also a powerful stand-in for the persistent fallout that comes with grief-infused mental illness. Gorgeously illustrated by Alexander Juhasz, with charcoal-y chiaroscuro, a funky font, and a splintered, shadowy creature design, Mister Babadook is about as visually arresting a central prop as a horror film can get. I don’t know, I’d still probably read it. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
8. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
George Barry only made one film. But, ya know what? When you strike gold on your first try, there is no point in a follow-up. A long time ago, a demon loved a human woman. Their passion was extreme, and she succumbed to it. As she died in his arms, the demon wept upon the bed. His tears were forever trapped in the mattress, and the bed developed an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is broken up into four courses: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Just Desserts. Each meal presenting foolish folks cavorting upon the cursed object an inevitably finding their way into the mattresses’ digestive tract. Gross! As Patton Oswalt states in his act, this is just one of those movies you have to see to believe and take inspiration from Barry’s triumphant accomplishment. Also, never fling yourself on a dirty ass bed without washing those sheets first. (Brad Gullickson)
7. The Mangler (1995)
The Mangler will never be the first film mentioned when talking about Stephen King or Tobe Hooper movies, and that’s a damn shame. I get it. The movie cannot compare to flicks like The Shining, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Shawshank Redemption, Lifeforce, Carrie, Poltergeist, The Dead Zone, etc., etc. But, dammit, that’s a crime cuz The Mangler is a balls-to-the-wall freak-o terror film starring a hell-bent-for-leather(face) performance from Robert Englund. As the pustulous purveyor of the Blue Ribbon Laundry Service, Englund’s Bill Gartley cares only for efficiency. He does not give a hoot if his industrial laundry press is haunted by a demon or how many employees it ravishes into pulp. The bloodshed is merely a nuisance and something to circumvent when Ted Levine‘s detective starts snooping around. The Mangler presents an upsetting, odd, and somewhat laughable antagonist, but Hooper throws himself into the concept and treats it far more seriously than most would have bothered. The result is a perfect little B-movie with tasty performances and great heaps of splatter. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Death Spa (1989)
If you weren’t sold on Death Spa in name alone then let me ask: how do you feel about supernaturally possessed sturgeon flying off of larder shelves impaling hapless detectives? Death Spa is a gem of straight to video filmmaking that exemplifies why these forgotten classics are so special. It has high budget aspirations with a low-budget aesthetic, amassing a respectable cast – like Ken Foree in some of the greatest costumes of his career – all the while being an incredibly schlocky tale of a ghost commandeering a high tech health club that is remarkably prescient of our modern gyms. Sure Death Spa may not be what is commonly known as a “well written” film, but what it lacks in dialogue it makes up for in full-throated imagination and playful fun. Really what more could you ask for? (Jacob Trussell)